Scenes from Spring Training: The Diamondbacks and Rockies are impossibly spoiled

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I am writing this in the press box of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (note: here’s an explanation for that name).  I’ve been here a little over three hours, and I still haven’t wrapped my brain around it all.

The complex sits on the far northeast side of town next to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. I had saved driving directions to the joint in my phone, but I needn’t have bothered because you can see it from the freeway, miles away.  “Just drive northeast out of Phoenix until you see it jutting out from the horizon” would have been specific enough.

Driving into the complex grounds, one is immediately reminded that it’s brand new.  There were workers planting decorative cacti along the driveway and bolting up signage around the park.  Inside, there were wet paint signs on the railings along the concourses and a man barked into his walkie talkie to underlings that some unidentified installation was not how it was supposed to be and that it better get fixed before fans started arriving.  But there was nothing frantic about any of it. One gets the distinct sense that this place was well-planned and will be shipshape and in Bristol fashion when the first game is played on Saturday.

The team facilities are large and impossibly well-appointed. The Diamonbacks’ headquarters are beyond the left field wall, the Rockies’ beyond the right.  With one exception, the facilities are mirror images of each other, each housing 85,000 square feet — yes, 85,000 square feet — of training, meeting, working, swimming, and loitering space.  The one exception: the Diamondbacks thought to put a media room in their building. The Rockies neglected that detail, much to the chagrin of the scribes covering the Rockies, but I suppose the media will survive.

When I got here this morning the Rockies’ clubhouse was closed so I went over to the Arizona side. You may remember that last year I was greeted warmly by some teams, not as warmly by others.  The Diamondbacks are off the scale on the warm side. Security guards may as well have been concierges. The Dbacks’ media relations people were so accommodating that I feel like I need to buy them thank you gifts.  They pointed me in the direction of the clubhouse and the training fields and off I went.

They probably need a new word to describe the place where the players dress, because “clubhouse” doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like an upscale lounge, with indirect lighting emanating from a glowing Dbacks logo in the ceiling, thick red carpeting and handsome wooden lockers. There are video boards displaying the day’s workout plan. Players lounged in comfortable arm chairs, playing cards, eating, reading or, in a couple of cases, sleeping, all in perfect luxury. Were it not for the telltale smell of smokeless tobacco you’d never know you were in a locker room.

I made some smalltalk with a few Diamondbacks players. All of them gave off a vibe that things are very, very different on this team than it was before. Maybe part of it was the new facility, but mostly it comes down to Kirk Gibson being in charge in camp for the first time. Each player I spoke with either used the word “professional” or strongly suggested it.  Gibson isn’t just a hard nosed guy. He and his high-profile coaching staff –Don Baylor, Matt Williams, Eric Young, Charles Nagy and Alan Trammell are all walking around — have these guys believing in themselves.

Is it a valid belief?  Well, I haven’t broken down their chances yet, but I assume not. Just not enough talent here yet to compete with the rest of the NL West over the long haul of the regular season.  But boy will they be comfortable during the short haul of spring training.

I’m heading out to the practice fields. It’s way too damn nice here to be cooped up in a press box.

Matt Carpenter suspended one game for bumping umpire

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Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter has been suspended one game for bumping home plate umpire John Tumpane when he didn’t like a called strike three in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against the Brewers. Manager Mike Matheny was also ejected along with Carpenter.

Carpenter will serve his suspension Tuesday night, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Through his first 69 nice plate appearances this season, Carpenter is hitting .236/.362/.364 with a pair of home runs and five RBI.

Dave Stewart says Diamondbacks’ early success is proof he was good as GM

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After the completion of the 2016 regular season, the Diamondbacks fired then-GM Dave Stewart and then-manager Chip Hale. Stewart acted as GM for two seasons. His most controversial move occurred in December 2015 when he acquired pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Gabe Speier in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte and prospects Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair. After his firing, Stewart blamed his superiors for the trade and said his gut was telling him not to make the trade.

The D-Backs are now led by new GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo. The club had a relatively quiet offseason, as its biggest acquisitions were Taijuan Walker and Fernando Rodney. Defying expectations, though, the Diamondbacks enter Tuesday night’s action with a 13-8 record, just a game and a half behind the first-place Rockies. Stewart spoke to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports and said that the D’Backs’ success shows that he knew what he was doing all along.

This means a lot to me because this is the same team, or very close to the one that I put on the field. So basically all of those guys and baseball analysts who said I didn’t know what I was doing, it showed I knew exactly what I was doing.

Everybody was just beat up and not living up to expectations. So all of a sudden, it’s my fault. Well, it’s not my fault. I couldn’t prevent injuries or jump in their bodies to make them pitch better in the starting rotation. We put the right people on the field. So I don’t think anybody should be surprised how well those kids are playing. They’re healthy now. I knew this was going to happen.

Everyone should have seen it coming.

Not to rain on Stewart’s parade, but the Diamondbacks are five games over .500 in a relatively tiny 21-game sample size. Had his team valued analytics during his tenure, he might have known that. Additionally, few of the players performing well for the team right now are players Stewart himself was responsible for bringing to Arizona. Furthermore, the team’s success doesn’t retroactively justify what he gave up for Miller nor does it justify practically giving away Touki Toussaint and signing a 32-year-old Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract.

During and after his tumultuous tenure with the D-Backs, Stewart has appeared very insecure. When he was fired, he quipped, “Quite frankly, I’ve got better things to do.” He appeared on MLB Network Radio in February to deflect any blame directed at him for the team’s failure. And then there’s his most recent quotes in which he heaps praise on himself for the team’s success.

Stewart was an All-Star starter who finished in the top-three in AL Cy Young Award voting three times in his career. He’s understandably competitive and has probably built up a very strong distaste for failure. Sometimes, though, one has to make peace with the fact that things didn’t go one’s way. Stewart simply appears to be tilting at windmills to protect his ego.